With a sixteen piece orchestra and a cast of twenty one very talented students from The Program in Vocal Performance (Music and Performing Arts Professions) – NYU Steinhardt under the caring direction of John Simpkins is presenting a full scale production of the imperfect but enjoyable SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS – Music (Marvin Hamlisch) Lyrics (Craig Carnelia) and Book by John Guare – September 29 through October 3rd at the Frederick Loewe Theatre 35 West 4th Street.
There are many reasons why this 2002 musical based on the 1957 satirical film noir failed on Broadway even though John Lithgow received the Tony Award as JJ Hunsecker (based on the powerful and most feared anti-commie 1950’s newspaper columnist Walter Winchell) and Brian D’Arcy James as Sidney Falcone, Press Agent and Kelli O’Hara, as JJ’s sister Susan co-starred.
Blame it on the lame book (little satire and less noir) and its haphazard, disjointed structure. The omnipresent Greek Chorus aspect and the lackluster lyrics.
However, Marvin Hamlisch comes out smelling like roses with his James Bond/Mike Hammer theme sounding score that features one of the most beautiful tunes – “I Cannot Hear the City” sung by Dallas (Tim Russell) the love interest of Susan that JJ quite literally kills off. No wonder it is reprised twice. It is sung beautifully, tenderly and majestically by Tim Russell who just about steals the show from its two leading men.
Brett Rigby as JJ Hunsecker and Tim Shea as Sidney Falcone who wants to achieve the great success that JJ has and is willing to do just about anything to get it. It’s a shark eat shark world created here but the bite is missing. Despite this, both Rigby and Shea show great promise, commanding the stage, singing with power and giving outstanding performances.
Another great find is Rebecca Kostell as Susan who has a lovely vocal quality, vulnerability and strength as she tries to stay with the man she loves despite her brother’s manipulation and double dealing, double crossing antics to separate them. She and Dallas sing another winning number “Don’t Know Where You Leave Off” beautifully.
John Simpkins, a director of note, has does his best to make lemonade out of the lemons left behind by Guare and Carnelia. It’s amazing that the show works as well as it does. It’s an excellent production showcasing the immense talent at NYU and featuring some nice choreography that keeps the pace from lagging by MK Lawson.
NYU must be commended for doing a show that might not otherwise be produced and allowing so many talents performers to be exposed – in a good way.
www.steinhardt.nyu.edu/music Photo: Chianan Yen
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